Coconut Tres Leches Cake

Let me tell you about the first time I ever tasted a piece of tres leches cake.  My best friend is Puerto Rican, and has close family living on “the island,” as his mom likes to call it.  My mother, brother and I went to visit with them when I was 8, and then I had the privilege of going back solo during the summer before my junior year of college.

Many, many tiny holes for maximum milk absorption.

Yeah, I know, Puerto Rico in July…a heat and humidity haters dream right?  Can I mention that my junior fall semester was the one I spent in Taiwan?  That was the longest half-year of my life (and also one of the most exciting.)

Spread that cream.

Anyway, back to Puerto Rico.  When I was there last, we stopped at a little bakery near the apartment we were staying at in Luquillo, on the northeast coast of the island.  This hole-in-the wall bakery had the most amazing pastries I had ever seen; delicate puffy shells stuffed with guava paste, mango cream tartlets, huge loaves of pan de agua and sheets of tres leches cake three feet across.

I was intrigued by this large, thin cake, and bought myself a piece.  Oh.  My.  Goodness.  My friend’s mother asked me for a bite and I actually said no.  Then felt guilty and let her have one in the end.

See the glaze?

The sweet sponge cake sopping up the ethereal nectar of the three milks, topped with fresh whipped cream and a maraschino cherry.  I was in heaven.

The first time I ever made a tres leches cake on my own, it was a dessert Luke and I brought when we had dinner with one of his former high school teachers.  It wasn’t quite as amazing as that piece I had on the island, but it was close.

This was taken at the office.

When I needed something to pair with the chocolate chip cookie dough cupcakes (and didn’t feel like making another layer cake), I immediately thought of tres leches cake.  And since the cupcake recipe required coconut milk, I thought working the leftover into the tres leches cake would be awesome.  I was soooo right.

Coconut Tres Leches Cake

Adapted from A Farm Girl’s Dabbles

Makes one 9X13” cake

For the Cake:
1 ¾ cup cake flour (or all-purpose)

1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
5 large eggs
1 ½ tsp vanilla

For the Soak:
1 12-oz. can evaporated milk
1 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup coconut milk

For the Topping:
2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
cinnamon, for sprinkling on top

For the cake: preheat the oven to 350°. Lightly grease a 13″x9″ pan with cooking spray and set aside.

Whisk together the cake flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.

In a large bowl, beat the butter until fluffy.  Very slowly add in the sugar and mix to combine.  Add the eggs, one at a time, and mix to thoroughly combine. Add the vanilla and mix again. Add the flour mixture to the batter in three batches and mix until just combined. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and spread evenly. It will seem like a small amount of batter for a cake. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the cake is lightly golden and a toothpick comes out clean.

Cool the cake in the pan for 30 minutes, then invert onto a rimmed platter.  I used a small cookie sheet.  Poke the top of the cake all over with a fork. Poke it a lot, the more holes, the more opportunity for the cake to absorb the milks.  Allow the cake to cool completely and then prepare the glaze.

For the glaze: whisk together the evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, and coconut milk in a medium bowl.  Once combined, pour the glaze over the cake.  Take your time and let it keep soaking in as you pour. The cake will not completely soak up the glaze until it has sat overnight. So, pop it into the fridge and finish it the following day.

For the topping: combine the heavy cream, powdered sugar, and vanilla into a large bowl. Using a hand mixer, mix together until stiff peaks form. Increase mixer to medium speed and whisk until thick. Spread the topping onto the cake, sprinkle with cinnamon, and allow it to chill in the fridge until ready to serve.

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